Patrick Cantlay: Record Setter

Jamie Mulligan and Patrick Cantlay
By: Chris Austin
The World Golf Hall of Fame includes the names of some of the greatest golfers in the history of the game.  Woods.  Snead.  Jones.  Nicklaus.  Now, it includes one more unlikely member, Cantlay.  As in Patrick Cantlay, the former SCPGA Junior Tour standout who has already broken into the record books at the tender age of 19.
Cantlay is the product of PGA General Manager and COO Jamie Mulligan of Virginia Country Club, who took Patrick under his wings 12 years ago.  He grew up learning from some of the best young players in the country, and one veteran who has mentored him through the years.
The relationship these two have formed has led to the amazing success Cantlay has enjoyed so far in his handful of events on the PGA TOUR, including low amateur honors at the 2011 United States Open and most recently at the Canadian Open, where he also enjoyed a top-10 finish.  His trophy shelf is piling up faster than his stack of textbooks as he gets ready for his sophomore year at UCLA.
Cantlay currently owns the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, was named the 2011 GCAA Division I Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, and the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
His most amazing feats came in a two-week stretch in June, as he finished in a tie for 21st during the U.S. Open; then followed that up by setting the course record at the TPC River Highlands during the Travelers Championship.  His second-round 60 was the lowest amateur round ever carded in the history of the PGA TOUR.  On July 10 he won the Southern California Amateur Championship at San Gabriel Country Club.
His beginnings in golf, however, were more of the humble variety.  His first lesson at Virginia was set up by his father, a golfer himself, along with Patrick’s grandfather.
“His grandfather was a fixture here at the club for a long time,” says Mulligan.  “When I first started here in the mid-1980’s I actually played quite a bit with him.  I knew his father as well, who was a Club Champion.”
“I used to pay attention to the junior program and watch the players and see if there were any of them that had something special about them, the ones that sort of popped off the page.  I spotted Patrick, and we’re going on our 12th year working together now.”
The atmosphere at Virginia Country Club was the perfect breeding ground for young golfers.  And Cantlay has no shortage of amazing talent to follow.  John Mallinger, Peter Tomasulo, John Merrick, Paul Goydos and veteran John Cook all came out of Virginia Country Club to star on the PGA TOUR.  Mulligan has worked with all five of them, and sees how the Club itself fostered those young golfers to become stars.
“The culture of golf here at Virginia is really strong.  It is truly a golf “club”.  There are no starting times, everyone here is really into playing regardless of their ability levels.”
“When I first came over here, we really focused on those five guys.  The young guys were getting ready for college, and Paul is about my age and Cook is a few years older.  But Patrick was the one kid in our junior program that really showed the best temperament, worked the hardest, and bought into the culture.  The guys have really taken him under their wing and they treat him like their younger brother and have looked after him.”
Cantlay knows he has benefited greatly from having such incredible players to watch over his development.
“It was great being around these amazing players every day, getting to hang out with them and play and practice with them,” says Cantlay.  “Everyone here at the club has always been completely supportive.”
“Those guys have really helped me with my game and have always told me what I needed to do, how to do it, and I also have been able to learn a lot by just watching them and how they play the game.”
Through the years, Mulligan has watched the development of his young phenom, and recognizes the advantage he has enjoyed thanks to the unique position he was in as a junior golfer.
“When you’re learning to play the game of golf, part of the process is taking in all of the information that is out there available to you.  With Patrick, being around these guys put him way ahead in the sense that he already knew what was out there.  Each of those guys plays completely different.  They have different swings and they have different personalities, but they’ve all managed to put it together and be successful.”
Mulligan went on to explain why Patrick has been able to have so much success so quickly.
“We use the analogy of a wheel with Patrick, with each spoke being a piece of information that you take in.  Patrick, being around these great golfers for so long, has just a few spokes and they’re all perfectly straight, so he’s been able to focus in on only the important things he needs to work on.  A lot of players never have had the exposure like Patrick has, so they’ve got 300 spokes in their wheel and 290 of them are bent, and the ten straight ones aren’t going to run as efficiently because of all the other broken ones.”
“I can be there with him on the range at an event and say to him, ‘make me a Tomasulo backswing with a John Merrick follow-through.’  For anyone else, that will mean nothing, but with Patrick he can immediately pick that up thanks to the 12 years of osmosis he’s had to absorb all the information and experiences playing with those guys.”
Not only has Cantlay learned the game of golf from one of the best instructors in the PGA, he has learned to have something maybe even more important; perspective.  With success coming so quickly, a young college kid might have dollar signs flashing in his field of vision, tempting him to go after the big pay day. But Cantlay is set to remain an amateur and continue playing for the Bruins as he competes on the PGA TOUR.
“It’s really important to relax and just be yourself at all times, even when you’re not on the golf course,” says Cantlay.
“I’ve learned to enjoy life outside of golf, because it isn’t everything.  I think you need some down time away from the course, and I make sure I have time to enjoy other things besides playing golf.”
This quality was one that Mulligan saw early on in his student, and he has worked hard with Patrick to maintain that attitude throughout.
“When we started working with guys like Tomasulo and Merrick and Mallinger, we were looking for players that not only had talent, but who were well-rounded.  Guys who had integrity and were all-around model citizens.”
“I think Patrick has turned into that type of person now.  He’s very comfortable in his own skin, he’s a 19-year-old who acts 35.  He’s been exposed to really good people and has had a strong family surrounding him as he’s grown up.  I think its really made a huge difference as he makes his way into the PGA TOUR events and culture.”
While Patrick may still be growing physically, his mind and demeanor are already well past what most other golfers would be at this point in their careers, and Mulligan sees that as a huge advantage.
“He really seems to be the complete player from a mind and poise standpoint.  I think that has a lot to do with who he’s been able to learn from as a junior, and who he has looked up to and followed.  Of course there are some things physically that those other guys can do that Patrick cannot, but that’ll come in time with strength and conditioning.  But as far as mind development, he is much further along than those guys were.”
A big part of Cantlay’s success early on has to be attributed to his time competing on the SCPGA Junior Tour, which he played starting at the age of nine.
“Playing on the SCPGA Junior Tour was a lot of fun.  My dad would always come with me to the tournaments, and got to play a lot of really good golf courses around Southern California.  When I first started I was playing a lot of other sports, so I wasn’t really that good yet at golf.  So when I was first starting out, I wasn’t concerned completely about how I was playing or where I was finishing.”
“My freshman year of high school I made the golf team, and we were practicing every day after school.  We were playing in events every weekend almost, so I had to give up playing the other sports if I wanted to continue playing golf.”
Mulligan saw the transition from playing golf as a pastime to developing that competitive streak as a huge positive, simply due to the fact that he did not feel the pressure to take on golf only and give up everything else.
“He gradually gravitated toward golf, which I think is a really good progression.  You have to be in love with the game in order to be great at it, and you cannot make someone love golf.  As glamorous as the whole U.S. Open experience was, it rained the entire week, tee times were moved around, we had never seen the golf course so we had two days to learn the course; you have to really love it to want to do it.”
The U.S. Open experience was unforgettable for Cantlay, but once again, he takes it in stride as he does every other tournament he competes in.
“It was really exciting getting to see the place for the first time.  Other people’s expectations really don’t bother me because I have very high expectations of myself.  It was nice to be under the radar as an amateur.  Jamie helped me stay focused and relaxed, and not worry about what other people are doing or what else is going on around the course.”
Having a PGA Professional such as Mulligan to watch over him for more than half of his life, and his entire golf career, has made a huge, lasting impression on Cantlay that he’ll take with him well into the future.
“It has been awesome [working with Jamie].  I have always had someone I can go to for anything I need; golf or non-golf.  We’ve been together such a long time, he knows exactly how I like to do things, how I operate.  He definitely has my best interests in mind all the time.  Even though it’s ‘whatever he says goes,’ I don’t mind because he knows what he’s doing and really cares about where I’m going.”
“He’s helped with my mind frame going into the events, that golf is just a game, and that I need to prepare for the U.S. Open just as I would for the SCGA Amateur Championship.  I just needed to learn the golf course as best I can and execute the shots the right way.”
Despite having his scorecard and golf ball immortalized in the World Golf Hall of Fame following his historic round at the Travelers, Cantlay continues to be just your average college student who happens to play a little golf here and there.  Having two generations of PGA TOUR players to learn from has left him focused, grounded, and more determined than ever.  Something tells us those two items won’t be the only Cantlay memorabilia enshrined when it is all said and done.

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